Countless overwhelming landscapes, a picturesque and sprawling historical center, several interesting and important museums, amazing green areas and parks, a vibrant nightlife, mouthwatering gastronomy, great beaches, charming and bohemian neighborhoods and imposing monuments. What if we told you that you can find all this in Valencia, the birthplace of paella? This historical coastal city, known as the “city of flowers and light”, is a cultural, scientific and contemporary center, full of modern buildings waiting to be discovered. Dynamic and welcoming, Valencia has a long stretch of coastline where you can also enjoy the Spanish sun and crystalline waters. Here we will show you what are the top 15 things to in Valencia, so you can start planning your trip!
Visit the futuristic City of the Arts and Sciences
The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, located near the Turia River, is an exhibition complex and an architectural delight with modern esthetics. Designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava, this avant-garde complex offers you a very interesting cultural experience, since it consists of several ultra-modern buildings, each covering five different cultural and scientific areas. Around the buildings, there are pools that reflect the images of the modern structures, creating an impressive setting. You can visit the Oceanogràfic, the largest oceanarium in Europe and a cutting-edge structure, with more than 45 000 animals from 500 different species. You can also marvel at the El Hemisfèric, the biggest movie theater in Spain and the first building in the complex to open its doors to the public. Designed in a human eye shape (the Eye of Wisdom), this structure is both a planetarium and an IMAX Cinema. At the Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe, a museum dedicated to science, technology and the environment, you can explore the various floors with many temporary and permanent exhibitions; and at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, an opera house and cultural center dedicated to promoting the performing arts, you can enjoy the extensive cultural program. You can also visit the El Ágora, the newest building of the complex and a multifunctional structure designed to accommodate all types of events, such as concerts and exhibitions. At the end of your visit, you can still stroll through the huge El Umbracle garden, where you will find several beautiful sculptures and a botanical collection of plant species native to Valencia.
Climb one of the city gates
There are two city gates of the original twelve still standing in Valencia today. Both Torres de Quart and Torres de Serranos were part of the original structure defending the access to the city and they both survived its demolition during the French invasions. In the Torres de Quart, between the two late-Gothic fortified towers, there is an entrance and exit gate to the city surmounted by a semicircular arch. This defensive gate was built in the 15th century by Pere Bonfill and still shows traces of the conflicts on French invasions. Another curious fact is that this military construction from the Middle Ages was also a former women's prison. Torres de Serranos, however, is composed of two cylindrical towers in Valencian Gothic style, and today it is an important landmark and one of the best-preserved monuments in the city. Built by master Pere Balaguer in the 14th century, these towers were also converted into a prison for nobles and knights. When visiting Valencia, it is worth climbing one of these two city gates, which offer a breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Enjoy the historical feeling and take the time to admire Valencia in its purest form.
Marvel at the art scene in the several museums
Valencia is full of museums where you can marvel at outstanding works of art. Among the most representatives, it is worth mentioning the Museum of Fine Arts in Valencia, a reference museum in Spain with works dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Wandering through the halls, you will see works by the famous Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla and Francisco de Goya, for example. It is also worth exploring the Gothic art rooms and the rooms of the painters and sculptors Pinazo and Benlliure. Be sure to also admire the impressive collection of Renaissance paintings, the Courtyard of Ambassador Vich and works by Velázquez. If you really enjoy visiting museums and learning about the history of the cities you visit, a visit to the Prehistory Museum of Valencia, located in the Casa de la Beneficiencia, is a must. This museum exhibits archaeological pieces that date from the Paleolithic to the Visigoth period, which were found during archeological excavations. The Institute of Modern Art of Valencia, also called IVAM, is a mandatory stop as well, as it houses valuable works, from paintings and drawings to sculptures and photographs. It has a permanent collection of about 12 000 works by renowned Spanish and international artists, such as Julio González and Pinazo. There are also temporary exhibitions, lectures, courses and workshops, as well as an underground room where you can admire a large part of the medieval walls of Valencia. The Museo Fallero is a great opportunity to learn more about the famous and impressive Fallas festival, an internationally known Valencian celebration, almost like a "carnival" of the city. In the museum you can admire huge satirical statues that are burned at the end of the festivities (but the favorites are kept and exhibited in this museum).
Stroll through the historic center and stop by some lovely squares
In Valencia, more precisely in the lovely old town, there is something to see and admire on every corner. It's worth hopping from square to square, soaking up the sun while sampling some tapas on one of the many terraces, stopping by craft stores and gradually discovering the corners of this charming city. The historic center is easily walkable and made for wandering, and strolling through it is really the best way to get to know the city, its most emblematic monuments and its very typical atmosphere. One of the squares worth visiting is the Plaça de la Verge, or Plaza de la Virgen, where you can find the majestic cathedral and a famous fountain, the Fuente del Turia, with eight nude female figures. In fact, the square is surrounded by three of the most emblematic buildings of the city: the Cathedral of Santa María, the Basilica Virgen de los Desamparados and the Palacio de la Generalidad. Rest by the fountain or enjoy one of the cozy sidewalk cafes. This square is worth visiting both during the day and at night, as the lights take over the square at night and give it a romantic atmosphere. Another square worth visiting is Plaça del Mercat, a small square in the old town that features two prominent buildings: the La Lonja and the sturdy Central Market. In this lively square you will also find bars and restaurants with tables on the sidewalks where you can have your meal or drink a coffee while watching the locals go about their daily business.
Explore the Jardín del Turia
Before becoming a large garden, the Jardín del Turia was the riverbed of the Turia River. These gardens, designed by top landscape architects, including Ricardo Bofill, were created in 1960 after the course of the river was changed to avoid flooding and began to contour the city. It is one of the largest urban parks in Spain (more than 9 kilometers) and it still includes the 18 bridges of different eras and architectural styles that used to cross the river. They are true traces of centuries of history! This verdant and eye-catching park is the perfect place to recharge your batteries and get some fresh air. For example, you can also rent a bike and explore the garden from one end to the other. Pine trees, orange groves, palm trees, ponds, sports fields, rose bushes and fountains make up this sprawling garden, where you can also enjoy the many paths and trails. If you are a nature lover, a visit to this park is a must!
Enjoy the many renowned restaurants (and try the paella)
Valencia has a wide variety of restaurants and there is something for everyone and every taste. Whether you are looking for some tasty tapas or for fine signature cuisine and Michelin-starred restaurants, you will find throughout the streets of Valencia all kinds of menus and foods. Once in the city, it's a crime to skip the internationally famous Paella Valenciana! The word paella means "frying pan" - this meal is cooked and served in a pan made of polished or coated steel with two handles on the side. The recipe may vary slightly depending on the place and region, but the traditional paella is made with rice, chicken, rabbit, beans, garrofones (butter beans), olive oil, tomatoes, saffron and rosemary. There is also a seafood version, with shrimp and squid. It is a traditional and local dish that will definitely make your mouth water. The tapas here are also authentic and worthwhile. Explore the culinary customs!
Go to La Lonja de la Seda
The majestic La Lonja de la Seda in the city center was built in the 15th century and is one of the most important Gothic civil buildings in Spain. Designed by Pere Compte - although the project was completed by his students after his death -, this building has four rooms and an astonishing façade, decorated with interesting gargoyles. At main hall, known as the Sala de Contratación (Contract or Trade Hall), look closely at the details of the vaulted ceilings and floors and you will be fascinated by the historical aura! It is easy to understand why this building was declared a UNESCO site, because it is indeed a masterpiece of Valencian Gothic architecture. The Lonja de la Seda was even considered one of the most beautiful buildings of European civil Gothic architecture. The name translates as "Silk Exchange", because this is where the merchants did their business and transactions. This group of buildings was originally used for the trade of silk!
Admire the majestic Cathedral and learn about the Holy Grail
The imposing, Gothic Cathedral of Valencia began to be built in the 13th century over an ancient Roman temple that was later a mosque, and is a very important landmark in the city. It took several centuries to complete - the reason why you will also find some traces of Renaissance, Romanesque, Neoclassical and Baroque styles. The majestic monument houses the chalice that Jesus is said to have used at the Last Supper (Holy Chalice). The Renaissance artwork in the main altar, signed by the important Italian artists Paolo da San Leocadio and Francesco Pagano, is also worth admiring. Outside the cathedral, the Porta do Palau stands out, as it is the oldest in the temple. After visiting the monument, you should climb the El Micalet tower (an octagonal bell tower next to the cathedral) for what is said to be the best view of the city. Originally, the tower was separate from the main building, but the two were joined in the 15th century. If you are a fan of history and art, the cathedral and the famous tower are two monuments you should definitely visit!
Visit the colorful Central Market
If you really want to get to know a city, there is nothing better than a visit to the central market. You can learn about the people, the culture, the architecture, the products, the ingredients and so on by visiting the market where all the locals meet. In Valencia, opposite the Silk Exchange, you will find the public Central Market, which is one of the main works of Valencian Art Nouveau. In this market full of life, you can see and buy food and ingredients, from cured meats, fish, seafood, cheese, bread, meat, vegetables and even flowers, while also enjoying the souvenir stores and restaurants. And did you know that the Central Market in Valencia is one of the largest in Europe? Walking through the aisles of this market is like exploring a paradise of colors and scents. Get to know this historically interesting building and enjoy the great variety of products on offer. Once inside, be sure to also admire the beautiful mosaic dome. A true oasis for foodies and art lovers!
Sunbathe at the beach and stroll through the marina
Valencia, being a coastal city, is also home to several paradisiacal beaches, ideal for those looking to soak up the Spanish sun and dive into the fresh and crystalline waters. Thanks to its location, Valencia also has a pleasant port and a modern maritime facade. At the marina, there are several options for those who want to enjoy the sea views. The restaurants are inviting and the menus focus on fresh fish and seafood or traditional paella. There is nothing better than enjoying a seafood dish accompanied by a glass of wine or beer while feeling the sea breeze on your face. At sunset, you can always opt for an outdoor table overlooking the sea and even enjoy a place with live music. You can also just stroll along the boardwalk and enjoy the last rays of sun or even take a boat ride out to sea. But if you really want to spread out your towel in the sand and spend the day on the beach, there are plenty of options in Valencia. Just a few minutes from the old town, you will find Malvarrosa beach, a wide, urban, golden-sand, blue flag beach. On the promenade, there are restaurants where you can refresh yourself with a cool drink or grab a quick bite. Another good example is El Saler beach, a wide beach of great natural beauty. This beach is less urban and quieter, perfect for those who love their privacy.
Discover the Russafa neighborhood
Small shops, quaint cafes, vintage boutiques, laid-back esplanades, bars, clubs, acclaimed restaurants… The buzzing Russafa neighborhood, just south of the historic center, is a place wrapped in a cozy, creative and hip atmosphere, with a unique vibe and a strong artistic and cultural scene. Some say it is the trendiest and most fashionable neighborhood in Valencia. On the streets you can often see local artists exhibiting their work or musicians playing on the weekends. The local market is probably the heart of this eclectic neighborhood, as it is the center of the locals' daily life. Opposite this lively and colorful market, you will find the baroque church of San Valero and San Vicente Mártir, also known as the Cathedral of Russafa. Russafa's gastronomic offerings have definitely increased, putting the neighborhood on the map. Stroll through the lively and dynamic streets, go to a tapas place or visit the different eateries and indulge in the fantastic cuisine. And end the day with a drink in hand in one of the many bars and pubs!
Pay a visit to the wild animals at Bioparc
The Valencia Zoo is different from the other usual zoos. And why? Because the Bioparc was built with the comfort and well-being of the animals in mind. The barriers between visitors and animals seem to disappear, because the huge space allows them to move in relative freedom. This park recreates the wild nature of the African continent and is divided into four areas: the equatorial forest, Madagascar, the great wetlands and the savannah. You can see gorillas, lemurs, lions, hippos and many other species here. Altogether, you will find about a thousand animals from 150 different African species. The habitats are large and designed to focus on the welfare of the animals and to suit their natural habitats. There are multi-species enclosures that faithfully recreate the habitats: animals of different species live side by side as they would in nature. The Bioparc was built so that its visitors can observe the animals up close. There is also an amphitheater where exhibitions of birds and marine mammals are shown, and the recreational area has a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the savannah. The animals, the rich vegetation and the landscape create an idyllic setting that allows you to learn and understand the ecosystems.
Wonder at the Palace of the Marques de Dos Aguas
This historic palace in the heart of the city was built on the site of an old mansion from the 15th century, although its current appearance is the result of a renovation in the 18th century. In the 20th century it became the home of the González Martí National Ceramics Museum, which houses an interesting collection of ceramics from the 18th century to the present - including works by the famous artist Picasso. The palace is a true rococo jewel! Inside, you can admire the palatial rooms with their original decoration and the 18th century carriages. It is worth visiting the rooms and admiring the noble structure of this imposing building and the works of art it houses. The opulent and lavishly decorated marble facade that you can admire from the outside is enough to impress anyone!
Explore the surroundings and visit the Albufera Natural Park
In this park of unparalleled beauty, located near Valencia (about 16 km south), you can admire nature in its purest form! It is the ideal place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and watch the sunset or take a scenic boat ride. This park, which used to be a marine gulf, was transformed into a freshwater lake. Today it is considered one of the most important wetlands in the country. Here you can enjoy the different beaches, observe the enormous variety of birds, admire the wild flora, marvel at the large lake and even try a delicious paella, as there are several restaurants in the surroundings. For those who love nature and the outdoors, this reserve and protected area is a must!
Go out at night in the bohemian Barrio del Carmen
The charming Barrio del Carmen, which makes up the Ciutat Vella district, is for many the center of life in Valencia. Rivaling the Russafa district, Barrio del Carmen is the preferred choice of many locals and visitors, as it is considered the essence of the city. It is home to many typical restaurants, monuments, churches, cozy cafes and nightclubs in old and picturesque buildings. Undoubtedly a young and bohemian neighborhood, the Barrio del Carmen is full of streets dotted with hip boutiques, historic shops and bars. When discovering the corners of this neighborhood, you will also find lots of street art and modern museums, which gives the neighborhood an innovative and lively atmosphere. It is also here that you will find the famous and emblematic monuments Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart. Characterized by its cultural and gastronomic diversity and also by its cheerful vibe, this part of town is the ideal place to have a cool drink at the end of the day, after trying a paella or delighting in creative tapas.